2019 was both a momentous and horrendous year for me. On paper, a lot was achieved; but paper can be screwed up and cast aside – paper can be burnt on the wood burner to be released from the chimney flue in plumes of blue-grey toxicity. Paper counts for nothing when the mood and mind are a vacuum of self-loathing and cycle with questions and vindication. When the mind is set up like this, with every piece of positivity comes along a niggling and doubting voice that undoes all that was good in the initial moment; hence my opening gambit.

I loved writing Bird Therapy. The process gave me purpose and focus, and helped me to find an identity which is something that I explored in the book itself. Sadly, that identity consumed me and I began to become so engrossed in being Bird Therapy that I started to lose a grip on reality, especially in my much-explored battles with social media usage, mainly Twitter. In giving so much to writing Bird Therapy and sharing what I chose to within its pages, when it was published, I lost a part of me and went through a process of grief, which I wrote about here and to be honest, I don’t think I have got over that.I loved being on Twitter but on December 28th the Bird Therapy account disappeared forever. I sold myself out in there – using it as a replacement for the real world – seeking solace and friendship that although real in some ways, was never actually real when I needed it most. I also learnt the hard way that people who claim to want to help you, or be your friend almost always have their own agenda and when you need them or their help, they’re not there for you either. Someone who has been helping me through all of this said something to me recently which has helped me keep perspective on this: “People are usually disappointing. Assume that they will be and you’ll sometimes be pleasantly surprised.”

Many people disappointed me during the process of publishing Bird Therapy. If only I’d had that nugget of wisdom to reflect on. I learnt that no matter the persona that someone presents online, the majority of people of prominence, whether in my case – other writers or celebrities – have their own image and agenda to push. For example, several high profile writers feigned support of the book, gusting about real voices and true stories, but when it came down to it. Silence. To quote myself in the book and in several subsequent features: “birds are consistent in a way that people rarely are.” And so I continue to learn and to grieve for those pieces of me that I’ve lost and those pseudo-relationships that never were. I feel for those who as we shift further into the digital way of living, feel the innate need to please others in social constructs of limited characters and expression. I loathe the fact that I can’t share my teaching resource as widely now, but love the fact that a layer of anxiety has been flayed from my life. I love that the first bird I saw in 2020 was our resident Dunnock, in all its underrated beauty. I love the fact that I’m alive and want to be.

14 thoughts on “On love, loss and learning

  1. For what it’s worth, Joe, Bird Therapy touched me profoundly. I’m from Montreal and was visiting a cousin in Bewdley this past August when I happened upon your beautiful book in a local shop. I hope you find that lost part of you again, altered perhaps but intact all the same. Wishing you the very best in 2020.

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  2. I loved your book! Mid last year, I began a challenging rehab due to a physical condition that has left me unable to leave my house without assistance. As an avid birder and lover of Nature this left me devastated. Your book provided me with an opportunity to live vicariously through your lovely descriptions of your birding adventures and helped me realize why it was that I always felt most at home and at ease while out amongst my feathered friends. My only wish would be that there might be a sequel in the works! Here’s to 2020. May you find peace and solace in Nature and her melodious feathered spirits!

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave this comment, Debbie. As I’ve been altering my mindset about the book, it’s comments like yours that reaffirm why I wrote it. It means an incredible amount to me to know that my writing has helped you in some way. Thank you.

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  3. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a crappy experience with people letting you down. I hate it when people promise and don’t deliver and I never do that myself – I rarely promise much to people but when I do, I follow through on it (for example, I said on here that your book was going to be one of my books of the year, and it was, and a few people have mentioned it to me explicitly as a book they’re interested in). I wish you very well for the coming year, and indeed finishing a year alive and glad to be is a good aim and a good outcome in my book.

    I felt a weird sense of loss when I’d completed my ultramarathon last year. In fact I never even really took in that I’d done it, and while I enjoyed the thing itself, haven’t really come to terms with it. I also felt like that when I finally finished my own research project I’d been doing without the support of a university system etc for years and years, so I know how that felt (and no one made the resulting book book of the year in a magazine!!). Much strength to you and hooray for dunnocks, frisking on our bird feeder as I type!

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    1. Thanks Liz. It’s not just being let down, it’s the shocking level of hidden agenda that exists on social media and behind the scenes. I’m glad someone can relate to that feeling of loss. In Dunnock solidarity.

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      1. Yes, that is a big reason why I just stay in a small bubble of Twitter, sharing my own blog posts and sharing some other book writers’ and nothing else. I do my bit of trying to post “real” photos on Instagram but I’m pretty well at the moment and it’s still feeling like a toxic environment there that could easily be left at any moment.

        It feels like your book is finding its readers and helping people, and that’s immense and brilliant. One other thing that cheered me about it was finding the names of two other people I know from book blogging in the list of subscribers! That’s a good community to be in.

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  4. My husband often tells me I need to lower my expectations of others, so your words regarding people being disappointing is so familiar. I too have abandoned Twitter, for similar reasons, so I’m sorry not to have realised your account had closed. I wish you serenity and all the best in your Twitter-free future Joe.

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    1. Thank you Clare. It’s hugely liberating. I’m using Instagram again and it’s a different world. So much easier to manage mentally. Eventually, I’ll be strong enough to disappear entirely.

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  5. Happy new year Joe thank you for that last post. I feel nature is very important to me and my well being – I’ve had quite a tough 2019 and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better this year. I don’t get much time to get out to the countryside these days but over new years I was staying with friends who live close to some heathland so I went for a wander on my own in the morning – I walked and cried and sat gazing across the heath for awhile. Then all of a sudden 3 woodlark flew up singing away. It put a smile on my face and made my troubles disappear for a bit. I don’t know when I’ll get time to go back but at least I got a great start to the year. Hope you have a much more settled 2020 so you can concentrate on the people and things you love. Take care. Ally

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    1. An amazing moment, Ally. It’s really weird, yesterday on our bird race, we heard a singing Woodlark briefly and it was magic. Whilst we were at the heath, I knew deep inside, that it would always welcome me back, no matter how long life may drag me away from there.

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  6. Hi Joe
    I’m sorry to hear that 2019 was not a good year for you, I’m afraid I was a slow starter and I am just finishing reading bird therapy now . Excellent , inspiring work . I have always been an amateur birder but didn’t really realise how important seeing and hearing birds was to me , from the cheeky starlings shouting down my chimney to the tawny owls I can hear at night calling to one another.
    I am not a fan of mainstream social media , never joined Facebook or instagram, I do have twitter but thanks in part to your warnings I keep it tight and follow inspirational and newsworthy members .
    I hope you are well in 2020 your role working with challenging young people is invaluable.
    I can also say that as the proud father of 2 amazing daughters that your role as a father is the most important thing you will ever do .
    Here’s a funny bite, the first time I ever heard a nightingale was 30 years ago and i was in full police riot gear with a shield on a training exercise
    We actually stopped to listen 🙂 amazing , then back to the petrol bombs .
    Take care

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    1. That Nightingale analogy is bloody brilliant, David. Love it! I am using Instagram, but for whatever reason, it causes me little to no anxiety, probably because the people I engage with are ‘just’ everyday people, like I really am. Not the people who’ve repeatedly let me down to follow their own agendas. Back to work today in-fact, after 3 glorious weeks with my family. Work is important, very much so, but those two, nothing is more so than them.

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